Cubs Asset Accumulation Method Key to the Future

Editor’s Note:  This is the first article from Paul, who will bring a statistical and business-oriented look at the Cubs  about once a week.  He also writes for The Wrigleyville Times.   Dan and his Around the League feature will still be in this slot on Saturdays, but he has this week off.  He’ll be back next week with his usual look around baseball. – John

There is a reason Theo, Jed, and Jason couldn’t stop using the word “assets” during the complete teardown and rebuild of the entire Cubs organization.  If you didn’t know any better, the Cubs FO may have been confused for businessmen.  Wait.  That’s precisely what they are and the approach they have taken throughout the process of putting the Cubs back into perennial contention.

The FO knew they would take it on the chin during the teardown.  Ridding the roster of Zambrano, Soriano, A-Ram, Marmol… I still have a lingering twitch just hearing Marmol’s name. The roster was absolutely decimated within the first eighteen months the FO was in town.  However, it was all done with an analyst-like precision.

There is no supporting the idea, argument, or theory that the Cubs could have attempted to contend and rebuild simultaneously anymore.  If the FO had attempted to employ that method and appease the critics the organization wouldn’t have a Kris Bryant, a Kyle Schwarber (or Schwarzenneger as autocorrect has so fittingly named him), Albert Almora, Addison Russell, etc.  The list goes on and on.  If the Cubs had not intentionally positioned themselves to obtain a high draft pick, that type of elite talent would not have been available.  To accomplish that goal, the FO took the approach of acquiring short-term free agent assets that had underperformed their career averages the year before and bet that they could maximize those assets internally.

What resulted from that philosophy was:

Disposal of Alfonso Soriano and the acquisition of Corey Black – Black was just recently moved from the rotation to the bullpen in AA.  Yankees GM Brian Cashman was furious with ownership after the trade because he felt forced to give away a higher ceiling pitcher for Soriano.  Cashman may have been right.  Corey currently owns a FIP of 2.88 through 56IP, a 9.96 K/9 rate, a 4.02 BB/9 rate, and hitters are only have a .197 batting average against (career best) him so far this season.  Corey could be a key addition to the Cubs down the stretch as they make a push for the playoffs.

Trading Samardjzia (wouldn’t re-sign at a reasonable price) and rent-a-player (at the time) Hammel to acquire Addison Russell – Samardzjia wanted to be paid like an ace.  His performance in Oakland the second half of last year and with the White Sox this year has severely cut into what he was going to make on the free agent market.  He’s sorely underperformed.  Jason Hammel and the “Wizard of Boz” have the type of boss/employee relationship you could only dream of.  The numbers prove it.  With the Cubs Hammel had a K/BB rate of 4.52.  In Oakland that rate plummeted to only 2.57.  With the Cubs Hammel enjoyed a FIP of 3.19.  In Oakland Hammel had a FIP of 5.10.  There is serious chemistry between Hammel and Boz.  It shouldn’t be questioned.  In return the Cubs acquired the number four ranked prospect in all of baseball, now manning second based for the Cubs, in Addison Russell.  Russell’s offensive metrics are effectively average thus far when compared to the rest of the league, impressive for a rookies.  His defensive, however, has been impressive.  Russell has a UZR of 5.0, a DRS of 7.0, a RAR of 13.1, and his WAR reflects this combination by already stacking up to a 1.4.  Over the course of a full season that equates to a WAR +4.2.  Not bad for a rookie of just 21 years of age.

Trading Arodys Vizcaino back to Atlanta for OBP specialist Tommy La Stella.  La Stella has been an OBP machine throughout his entire minor league career with a .422 OBP in AA in 2013 and a .384 OBP in AAA in 2014.  OBP was something severely lacking, especially at the middle infield positions for the Cubs before acquiring La Stella.  La Stella would be a perfect fit in the two spot of the batting order, however finding a spot for him to play aside from a super utility role could be challenging when he returns.

The FO played the hand they were dealt, and at this juncture we can say they’ve stacked the deck in their favor going forward.  They have remain focused on acquiring versatile high floor, high ceiling assets.  Keeping this approach allows them to maximize the return on those assets if they look to make a trade.  This is why the Cubs brass is determined to keep Schwarber behind the plate; he creates a higher WAR with that bat as a catcher than in left field.  This is why SS/2B Javier Baez was starting to see time at third base before getting injured.  The organization as a whole simply enjoys a far greater return, either through production for the organization itself or externally via trade, by having or teaching versatility.

The conversation considering who will have to move where and can they is a moot point.  Consider that many of the greats have changed positions.  Gary Sheffield, Ferguson Jenkins, Alfonso Soriano, and the (pre-steroids) Alex Rodriguez all changed from their natural middle infielder positions.  An athlete is an athlete, an advanced approach at the plate, and elite power are the three fundamentals the Cubs have rebuilt this organization upon.  There’s no need to worry about where the players will play.  The attention should be focused on where the Cubs enjoy the greatest return on the asset.

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  • Pre-steroids? Ahem. Pre-getting caught with steroids.

  • In reply to hawkmcd:

    I don't see the connection between A-Rod's steroids and his successful move from SS to 3rd base. Did I miss it?

  • "The conversation considering who will have to move where and can they is a moot point."

    That's half the posts at Cubs Den! I love the threads that go on and on about what the Cubs should get in return for so-and-so or what the exact lineup should be in 3 years (just in case Theo and Jed are reading today).

    Great piece, Paul. This FO doesn't obsess over who will play SS (or LF!) in 2018. They stockpile assets, letting the details fall in place when it's necessary to make the decision.

  • Steroids usually cause a player to bulk up, forcing a position change off of speed positions such as shortstop to third or first base or center field to left field. Rodrigues (and the others mentioned) made the change not because they could no longer field the position, but for other reasons.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    At the time the Yanks acquired Rodriguez, I believe he was considered the superior defender at ss. He moved because Jeter was reluctant and the difference was marginal.

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    In reply to Cincycub:

    While both were superior and hall of fame players regardless, my understanding for A-Rod going to 3rd was that his bat played best there of the 2 whereas Jeter, while his bat still would've played fine, had more value at SS- at least that was the way I perceived it--

  • In reply to David McKenzie:

    I thought there was talk of Jeter moving to 2B and Arod staying at ss, but honestly I don't remember it that well.

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    In reply to David McKenzie:

    At that time, a rod was the far better SS, better arm, better range, hands Prob equal......only thing Jeter had him in is intangibles.........if it was anyone but Jeter and the titles, he moves.

    The reason it wasn't such a big deal as Arod was happy to move ( Prob cuz he wanted to win and get out of Texas ), his bat played anywhere on the field, and the yanks didn't care about losing "value " moving that bat off a middle infield position. ( why, cuz they are the Yankees )

  • It not about A-Rod riods scandal it's about a player with athleticism can play in different positions then what he was draft for Come now ppl really read what you are reading

  • "I still have a lingering twitch just hearing Marmol's name." I think I can relate.

  • Perhaps it should be mentioned that Arodys Vizaino was acquired from the Braves the year before for another reclamation project (Paul Maholm) and Reed Johnson.

    So stashing Arodys Vizcaino away for a year is like depositing the value created by the reclamation project and the expiring contract in an asset (or piggy bank if you like) that can hold it for longer than the rest of the year, and use it to acquire an asset we can use at a later time.

    And there was also the option value that Vizcaino himself might be the asset we can actually use. He was a surplus bullpen power arm preciously because other assets acquired in similar fashion (Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop's hat) passed him by.

    These moves are most like those hedge fund managers pull off than baseball people...

  • Originally I never thought about Samardija coming back to Chicago. I figured someone would give him way too much money and he would be gone. However, if he struggles this year and suddenly hes not getting the 100 million offer he thought he would, do Cubs get involved? They always liked his bulldog mentality on the mound and leadership. Not sure if that bridge is burned or not

  • In reply to Cubswin2015:

    I have mixed feelings about Samardzija. It seems like he's a #2 or even #3 SP that wants TOR money. He passed on the chance to sign long-term with the Cubs to go after more dollars. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't give me a comfort level, either.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    It's funny... last year I was sort of hoping the Cubs would sign him to an extension. Now, I don't see how he adds value to the Cubs as he would slot in as the #3 or even #4 pitcher on this staff (Hammel has outpitched him this year and I think they're about neck and neck. Jeff might have better stuff, but has worse control/command). If he wants to be paid like a TOR pitcher or even #2 guy, there's no way I'd bring him back. He would be an upgrade over Hendricks or Wada, but we can find cheaper guys to do that most likely (perhaps even internally with Turner).

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    In reply to Pura Vida:

    Let's not forget samardzia is pitching in the American League and not the NL. He would definitely slide in above Hammel. Solid #2 or #3 in the rotation. If he can be had for 5/95 I'd make the deal.

  • In reply to STL Bearboy:

    I think our initial offer was 5/85. Funny maybe that is what he ends up with.

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    Great stuff Paul! I am really looking forward to see how this FO looks to strengthen the starting rotation. I am of the strong belief that just buying 30+ year old free agents on the open market doesn't translate well for the business bottom line. I am still in the camp that you use these assests as currency to fill deficiencies on the roster.

  • Great 1st read Paul...well done. Might be fun to create a button on the home page that tracks all of the epstoyer moves. I see shark taking a white sox offer or not signing until Mar 2016.

  • Kazmir and Zobrist, what would it take? My opinion we would send back replacement players like (Couglan & Wada) then on top of that what minor leaguers would we have to give up?

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Your zeal for Zobrist is badly misplaced IMO. He's still a mediocre hitter, fielder with a lack of speed. His value is that he can do it in multiple places. Don't feel that is what this team needs right now. They have lots of players to fill all the roles and holes. LF is not a hole and Coghlin for Z would be a minus move.

  • In reply to veteran:

    Coughlan for zobrist wouldn't be a minus move. More importantly it eould open up LF for schwarber

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    There are no plans currently for Schwarber to go to LF.

  • Looking at Samardzija's stats in Oakland, I'd take a pitcher like that in a heartbeat if I were Epstein--depending on the money, of course. But he'll be a year and a half older this winter and looking for the career contract after definitely hurting himself on the South Side. He may be more reasonable this time around--he'll have to be, he's not gonna get TOR money--and maybe eager to reconnect with the people who made him the pitcher he was.

  • I like the spirit of this article. But you neglect to mention the biggest, most significant deal they've made and that is the acquisition of Rizzo for Cashner. Also, the acquisitions for T Wood and Hendricks deserve a mention. Whatever T Wood is now, he did chew up a lot of innings on a below average team and saved us from more of Rusin/Raily/Germano, etc...

    Also, we still don't know what we have with LaStella. He may be an on-base machine, he may not. His glove/arm/defense is average at best and if he can't slug more than .317 @ the MLB level, then his OBP will likely drop. Not even sure the Vizcaino/LaStella deal is significant enough to be included in this conversation at this point. Perhaps in a year or two.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    May I add Arietta and Strop for Feldman to the list?

  • Think if the Phillies lower their asking price for Hamels and Cubs feel it would benefit them now he only has four years and $96MM left (His contract also has a $20MM club option that can vest at $24MM based on innings pitched.) Phillies have stated they would even pay some of the contract in a trade. U get a TOR Ace who paired for Lester would be a nice 1-2 punch, and with the money u save u can use to further improve the roster.

  • Tampa Bay is the best team with an over abundance of pitching and lack of position players at the MLB level. Now the question is will their ownership be will to do business with the team that "stole" their beloved manager. When Moore, Smyly , Cobb, and others come off their respective rehabs they will be swimming in quality starting pitching depth.
    Despite their low team BA & putrid OBP they are leading the AL East. They need an infusion of OF, IF, & C help.

  • In reply to Chicago Aces:

    A good young pitcher for a good young hitter. I would like that. We look like we will soon have an abundance of good young hitters.

  • I'd agree that TB could be a an obvious & attractive trade partner. I've always liked both Smyly(though shoulders make me nervous) and Moore.

    Here is a question: what are we going to do with Olt & C Villanueva? Both guys seem like their viable everyday major-league 3B timber. However, they're both at points in career where they should be getting a look at the next level. What trade value do they have? Do you move both or one of them ? That is an area of particular depth.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    They have very little actual trade value. Because neither is proven to be able to hit at the MLB level. I think either one is just a "throw-in" at this point.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Olt isn't a throw in, he takes Baxter's spot on the roster once rehab assignment is over.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    They would/could be more of "pot sweeteners" in a deal with the next prospect down from what the team trading with wants... In other words, Cubs tell them you can't have... say McKinney, but here's Vogelbomb & we'll also sweeten that w/Villanueva &/or Olt or other instead.... Just as an example... But I'm thinking Olt & Villanueva are sort of more redundant (3Bmen) w/each other & wouldn't necessarily go in the same deal.

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    We've taken the cream of our talent from the minors this year and last. As I look over the prospects (I don't count Schwarber now) does anyone jump out at you? I don't see even a top 20 or 30 prospect in our group. Some pitchers may, but it's not evident yet.
    What do you all think? Am I missing someone or something?

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    You could be right... But keep an eye on Gleyber Torres & lets see how Happ takes to the pro ranks now. Torres playing shortstop & hitting well... & If Happ dominates at Eugene or wherever, then goes to SB, dominates... then there you have it, the next top 10-20 guys. As long as Happ's bat profiles to position played, then bingo, Theoyercloud strikes again 3rd draft in a row. And Torres ... But I'm also liking the Dewees pick if he clicks... If that speed combines w/a high BA/OBP, there's that prototypical leadoff guy they've been sorely lacking in the system & could elevate him on the prospect charts...

    But I think you're right as of now. Edwards if he goes back to possible starter. Underwood seems to be the guy closer to top 10 potential over our hitters not named Schwarbernegger right now especially if he elevates his game a notch & remains a ToR candidate...

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    If you take Schwarber out of the equation, the Cubs probably don't have any top 20-30 prospects at this time. I think it's important to note that Kyle will still have prospect status for some time yet and he will be joined by Baez (once he returns in late July-early August) and Alcantara in AAA. Add in Edwards and that is a very nice 4-man wave coming.

    But it seems like you looking at the wave after that. Generally speaking, to make it into the top 30 on a prospect list that player needs to have a pretty high ceiling and right now no Cubs prospect is considered to have an elite ceiling. That could change as players develop.

    As Milk Stout mentioned, the most likely guy to have a ceiling like that is currently Gleyber Torres. That's mostly due to the fact that he's hitting so well in the MWL at the age of 18. But even Torres' ceiling is somewhat limited because there's some doubt as to whether he will stick at SS. If he develops into an average to above average SS and keeps hitting as he faces tougher competition in the upper levels.

    McKinney's ceiling would be higher if he could play a good CF, but most scouts seem to think he's destined for LF. I can see McKinney's bat eventually getting him in the top 40 range on some lists though.

    Duane Underwood may have an even higher ceiling than Torres depending on who you talk to. He still encounters some difficulty with control, but if he is able to develop his present skills, I see him as having a good shot at reaching a top 20-30 ranking.

    Almora's struggles have now extended well into a second season. He's still just 21 and is facing advanced competition in AA, so he's got time on his side. Because of his elite defense at a position where defense is very important, if his bat develops, Almora would easily crack the top 30, possibly even top 15 ranking. But that if is getting bigger every week he continues struggling. I haven't given up on him yet, though.

    Other than that, most of the high ceiling guys are in short-season ball. If Ian Happ can play an average CF and his bat is as advertised, he might be top 30. Eloy Jimenez certainly has that type of ceiling. If Dylan Cease can regain control of his 98-99 mph fastball and build enough stamina during the 2016 season to be a starter by 2017, he has that type of ceiling as well.

  • Happ just crushed a HR off of Hisashi Iwakuma.

  • Iwakuma on a rehab stint won 15 games for the Mariners last year. WOW !

  • Whereas I trust this FO for what they have accomplished to date, I still find the lack of top pitching prospects at the higher troubling. The Cubs have shown there hands and every other team knows their need. They will always be negotiating from a position of weakness when it comes to acquiring pitching via trade. So they took advantage of a market inefficiency but potentially left themselves with a personal inefficiency

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    In reply to Gator:

    I disagree with the premise of your post. Yes, everyone knows the Cubs don't have TOR talent in their minor leagues, especially the upper levels. However, I think what Hoyer and Epstein will try to do is get multiple bidders for their hitting talent and then take the best deal they can. As I have said before the variable then becomes the other team can't just "wait them out" as they will have to match or exceed the other team's talent or they will not get the hitter.

    For instance, let's say we make Baez available to 2 teams and we will presume, for the sake of argument, that each team wants him. If one team offers only mediocre pitching talent, though better than what we have currently and the other team offers more premium pitching talent then the team that offers better talent will get him and the team that tried to take advantage of the personal inefficiency will lose out completely and not get the hitter they want at all.

    Finally, what Hoyer and Epstein have said is that they think that quality power hitters, especially those with the concurrent talent to get on base, are getting more and more scarce. Meanwhile, there are likely to be multiple TOR arms each off season. Also, getting MOR and BOR starters is not as expensive as getting comparable quality hitters.

    In short I think they are letting other teams take the risk of prospect attrition at pitcher, which is higher than the attrition of hitters, and plan (hope?) to be able to trade their glut of hitting talent to acquire the guys that can succeed at the higher level.

  • Excellent article, a great read.. alot of things I have been thinking but don't have the resources or writing ability to put out there.. theo is a genius, i know there are others like jed and company behind theo that help with the decisions and leg work but it all started with theo.. and when we win our world series for the first time in 100+ years chicago will be thanking theo for his patience and brilliance. . And that's coming in the very near future..

  • anyone else think the Cubs should send a thank you card to the team who drafted in front of the Cubs the last 2 years, forcing the F O to draft Schwarber and Happ?

  • In reply to chibob:

    The WS are very happy with what they got the last two years. And btw they will probably draft in front of the Cubs again next June.

  • In reply to chibob:

    Well considering the Cubs had Schwarber #2 on their board last year behind only Brady Aiken, no thanks to that team is required. Same goes for this year; no way the Cubs would gamble on a pitcher in that high of a spot for a guy who could very well be destined for the bullpen.

    However, if you'd like to send them a thank you card, you can do so for all of the money they wasted on free agents and unnecessary contract extensions. Let alone questionable trades. I'm sure they'd appreciate that...

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